ii FROM MEHEMET ALI TO THE OCCUPATION 33
promise of high rates of interest abroad have only themselves to thank if the promise is not fulfilled, and that their Government should meet their appeals for help by merely reminding them of the legal maxim, Cavea-t emptor. But to Egypt, at any rate, the foreign bondholders ultimately proved a blessing in disguise. For it was their influence that in the first place drove the two Great Powers chiefly interested, viz., Great Britain and France, to intervene, and it was their intervention that procured an international inquiry, without which the appalling grievances of the Egyptian people against their ruler would not have had a chance of coming to light and obtaining some measure of redress. The foreign debt of Egypt was not in itself an intolerable burden. What was intolerable was the internal system of administration, and the former became the instrument, almost cheap at the price, for reforming the latter.
Ismail was well aware of the danger which threatened his hitherto unquestioned despotism from any form of international control, and for three years he wriggled and fought to evade it. He had been compelled as early as May, 1876, within a month of his public confession of bankruptcy, to agree to the creation of an international Commission of the Public Debt, an institution which, though its composition and purpose have been from time to time substantially modified, endures to the present day as the Oaisse de la Dette Publique. In the following year there arrived in Egypt, as the first British representative on it, the great Englishman who was destined as Sir Evelyn Baring, and, later, Lord Cromer, to play the leading part in rescuing Egypt from the slough of despond. In his memoirs he has given a graphic picture of the writhings and contortions of the Khedive to escape the most obvious penalties of his sins. Of the 900,000 acres of land he and his family had secured to themselves, he had already pledged nearly 500,000 to his creditors. He magnanimously offered to give up nearly two-thirds of what still remained unmortgaged, but it was quickly soul ever went to the hospital of his own free will, the exception being beggars who were driven there by poverty. The public of Cairo firmly believed that the hospital was merely a prelude to the cemetery, and that the sick were beaten and robbed by the attendants,